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Charlie and the Dirty Girl

First, about Mose Anthem. Mose had a house out where we're going to talk about, about five miles from town, and a farm he didn't do too much work on. Mostly he would argue with his wife. Finally he got tired of arguing so he bought a big trailer, one of them with more little rooms than you would expect, and put it in a field next to the house. Mose moved into the trailer. Every morning Mose would come out of his trailer, and his wife would come out of the house, and they would yell at each other for about fifteen minutes. Then Mose would go back in the trailer, and his wife would go back in the house, and that was that for the day.

That went on for quite a while and then supposedly Mose couldn't stand it any more, so one day he went to the house and shot his wife; at least, that's what some people say.

The sheriff came by some time later and saw Mose sitting on the porch. 'Someone reported the sound of shooting from around here. Did you hear any shooting?' he asked.

'I didn't hear any shooting,' answered Mose. He raised his voice to call back into the house. 'May, did you hear any shooting?'

There was no answer. 'Guess not,' said Mose.

No one saw the woman after that so some suspicion rested on Mose, but no one had heard anything and no one had seen anything and there was no evidence of any foul play that anybody had found, or indeed bothered to look for. Some people decided to think she had gone visiting.

That wasn't the end of the story, though. People further say that the Devil came to visit Mose not too long after the supposed shooting. Mose came in and there was the Devil sitting on the couch in his parlor.

'You should come along now and save yourself a lot of time and trouble,' said the Devil. 'I have a nice little room all picked out for you down where I live. You can move in and we'll fix it right up.'

'That woman was driving me nuts,' said Mose. He was trying to excuse himself to the Devil.

'You can be as nuts as you want in your room,' said the Devil. Mose was not sure he liked the sound of this.

So then Mose or the Devil burned Mose's house down and Mose took off — or at least he was not seen again. But here, I'm getting ahead of my real story, which is about Charlie and the Dirty Girl. After Mose moved back into the house, the trailer was empty. The next day as Mose was sitting on his porch, he noticed a man and a woman mooching around in front of the trailer. After contemplating them for quite a while, he went down to ask them who they were and what they wanted. The man was pretty seriously middle-aged and sort of worn and tattered, and the woman considerably younger and non-descript.

'I'm Charlie,' the man answered, 'and this is my daughter, the Dirty Girl.' The young woman didn't say anything. She did seem sort of dirty to Mose, but it wasn't his business. 'We have been on the road for quite a while, and would like a place where we could stop a bit and rest up. I am wondering if that seemingly disused trailer might be for rent.'

Mose figured he might as well get something out of the trailer, so he said, 'Five dollars.'

Charlie produced a five-dollar bill almost instantly, a lot faster than you would expect someone like that to do it, and handed it to Mose. 'I hope you can give me a receipt,' said Charlie. Mose told him to wait there, and he went inside his house, hid the money, cursed about people with unnecessary big-city ways, found a pencil which would write, laboriously wrote out a receipt, found a key which might have been to the trailer door, and returned to where they man and woman were patiently waiting in front of the trailer. As Mose had never bothered to turn off the electric or the water, it was ready to go. The man and woman entered, the afternoon went and evening came. The next day and the day after that, Mose saw them puttering around, and then a few days later he had his interview with the Devil and burned his house down and disappeared.

The sheriff came out about the fire and met Charlie. Charlie explained that he had rented the trailer from Mose. He showed the sheriff the receipt for the five dollars. 'Is that five dollars a day, or a week, or a month, or what?' asked the sheriff. Charlie looked at the receipt. 'It's just five dollars,' said Charlie. 'It isn't for anything in particular.' They both studied the receipt for some time but could come to no better conclusion.

What the sheriff really wanted to know about was the whereabouts of Mose, because he had thought of some questions he wanted to ask him, but Charlie didn't know what had become of Mose. He had heard some yelling and carrying-on the night of the fire, but that was it, he said.

'Now what do you do here?' asked the sheriff. 'You don't look much like a farmer.'

'My daughter, the Dirty Girl, and I have been on the road, and we have stopped here for a while to rest up from some hard traveling,' said Charlie.

'Now, you're not in any kind of trouble, are you?' asked the sheriff. 'We don't like to get any trouble around here. Most people in this area figure they already have enough.'

'No trouble at all,' said Charlie. 'I receive a modest pension from Uncle Sam for some past services which had unfortunate consequences for my health. We may be poor but we are proud and free, and we come in peace seeking only to be good members of your community for a little while.' This was enough for the sheriff, or maybe too much, and he drove off.

Some weeks passed, and some people occasionally came idly by to see what Charlie was up to, and beyond starting a small garden, the answer seemed to be 'not much.' The people lost interest.

It was getting on towards mid-summer when Larry appeared. Larry was a handsome youth, maybe 18 years old, with a strong build, a cute face, and curly blond hair. He had gotten kicked out of his living arrangement with some relatives for certain defects and indiscretions and was on the road to whatever he might find. Charlie noticed him as he was passing the trailer and called him over.

'It's a very warm day,' said Charlie, 'and you look pretty hot. Would you like a glass of water?'

'I sure would, Mister,' said Larry. Charlie got him a glass of water from a tap that happened to be on the outside of the trailer. 'I'm Charlie,' he said to Larry as he gave him the water.

'Thank you kindly, Mister Charlie,' said Larry. Larry was naturally polite, and he was also on his best behavior to sort of balance out some other things he had done recently. 'My name is Larry,' he added. He drank the water slowly while Charlie studied him.

'Say,' said Charlie, 'I'd like you to meet my daughter, the Dirty Girl.'

'Okay,' said Larry. He didn't have any appointments. He thought 'Dirty Girl' was an odd name for a daughter, but he didn't want be rude or say anything out of the way so early on. So Charlie led him into the trailer. The Dirty Girl was sitting in a kind of living and dining room in the middle of the trailer, looking at an old magazine. 'I'd like you to meet my daughter, the Dirty Girl,' said Charlie. 'Daughter, this is Larry.'

The Dirty Girl's glance flicked over Larry in an instant, and she went back to her magazine. 'Okay. Hi,' she said, neither enthusiastic nor unfriendly. It was as if Larry was already a member of the family and no big deal.

Larry studied the Dirty Girl. Although her fingernails could have used some work, she didn't seem all that dirty to him. Dusty was more like it. She had dust-colored clothing, dust-colored hair, dust-colored eyes, and the being that looked out through her eyes looked like it was looking at a thousand miles of dust.

'I'd like to call you Dusty,' said Larry to the Dirty Girl.

'Sure,' said the Dirty Girl. She was now Dusty.

Charlie prevailed on Larry to stay for supper, which was not hard to do since Larry had no other prospects. After supper they read old magazines, and then Larry went to sleep on the living-room couch. Dusty and Charlie each had little bedrooms in the trailer.

When Larry got up the next day, he was prepared to go on down the road after breakfast, but Charlie suggested he hang around for a while. 'After all,' Charlie said, 'as my dear mother used to say, when God made time, he made plenty of it.' Larry could not argue with this observation. So that day and for several days thereafter they all read old magazines, listened to the radio, went to a pond on Mose's land to swim, and worked in the garden.

One day as Dusty was setting the table she asked Larry to come over and stand next to her. He did and she hugged him. 'How'd you like that?' she asked.

'I liked it,' said Larry.

'Well,' said Dusty, 'I could hug you in a special way I know about which you might like even more. Would you like to try it?'

'Sure,' said Larry.

So she hugged him in her special way, which took a little while longer than a plain hug, and asked him what he thought of it.

'I liked it a lot,' said Larry.

'Well,' she said, 'if you stay around for awhile we could do that all we liked,' said Dusty.

'I wasn't thinking of going anywhere,' said Larry.

So things went on in this way for quite a while. After some months, probably as a result of all the hugging, Dusty became noticeably pregnant, and not too long after that she produced an infant, with Charlie presiding as midwife. This seemed to be one of his many surprising talents. The sequence of events repeated itself in months to come, so that sooner than one might have expected, there were three small children in the trailer as well as the three adults. Sometimes it seemed to Larry as if months and years had gone by in minutes, and sometimes it seemed as if they were swimming slowly, inch by inch, through the timeless time at the bottom of a boundless light-filled sea. On the whole he liked it a lot.

One day Dusty said she thought there was a funny sound in the sink drain. Charlie came by and bent over the sink to listen.

'Sounds like it could be Mose,' said Charlie. They had all heard the story about Mose and the Devil, so it seemed Mose might be calling from the room the Devil gave him. 'Can't hear you very well,' yelled Charlie down the drain. 'Speak up!'

There might have been a faint blibbing or wheedling sound coming up.

'Well, look,' said Charlie to the drain, 'the rent's all paid up, and we have no complaints about your excellent trailer, and it's good to hear from you, but I don't think we have a lot of business right now, especially given this rather poor connection. Anyway, we're taking good care of things for you. I think we're all set here.'

There might have been a little more blibbing and wheedling.

Charlie stood up thoughtfully. 'Well, Daughter,' he said, 'The next time your hear that blibbing and wheedling sound, I guess you should run plenty of water down the drain for a while. Cold water.'

Some time later, Charlie sat Dusty and Larry down at the living-room dining-room table, and said, 'Now you young folks know I'm pretty old, and I've seen a lot of miles. I thought it might be time for me to think about getting around to dying. But I have a problem. I have never died before, so I don't know about how to go about doing it.'

'Most people seem to come to it pretty naturally,' said Larry. Dusty was reading an old magazine and did not seem very interested in the subject.

'I know,' said Charlie. 'I just don't know how to get on with it, though.'

'You could kill yourself,' said Dusty, without looking up.

'Now, that just wouldn't be right,' said Charlie. 'I mean to go off properly, in a dignified manner that would not offend our more Godly brethren.'

'Well,' said Larry, 'maybe you just have a disability. Some people can't walk, some people can't talk, it happens to be that you can't die.'

Charlie considered this. 'Yes,' he said, 'that does seem like a distinct possibility. In which case the government ought to increase my disability payment. An inability to die could get a person in a lot of trouble one way or another. I shall have to apply to them.'

'Well,' said Dusty, 'death probably just isn't for everyone, that's all. It's not your fault.' Larry nodded in agreement. They both felt that Charlie was blameless in the matter.

'The main problem I see,' said Charlie, 'is that it's the end of the story. Every story is supposed to have an ending.'

'This one doesn't', said Dusty, going back to her old magazine.